FOLA has long believed that a sustainable, appropriately and adequately funded legal aid system is critical to the efficient, effective and just functioning of Ontario's justice system.
Ontario has one of the best legal aid systems in the world, but it is far from perfect and FOLA is actively involved in a number of initiatives to make the system better for both low-income clients who use the system and the lawyers who utilize funding from Legal Aid.
**UPDATE REGRADING REFUGEE LEGAL AID - AUGUST 2019**
Further to the federal government’s August 12, 2019 announcement of $25.7 million in one-time funding for immigration and refugee services, Legal Aid Ontario has restored services in these areas for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Legal aid coverage for immigration and refugee services has resumed at levels offered prior to April 15, 2019, when certain services were suspended.
For Refugee Protection Division matters, while coverage remains the same, the way LAO authorizes it has changed for an interim period. LAO will now issue a Basis of Claim-alone certificate and a second nine-hour certificate for the RPD hearing. Clients who received a BOC preparation-only certificate between April 15, 2019 and August 16, 2019, are also be eligible for a hearing certificate.
This is very good news and allows LAO to restore immigration and refugee services for the remainder of the year, while they continue to advocate for stable funding.
**CHANGES TO LAO's DISTRICT STRUCTURE & TO THE REGIONAL SERVICES DIVISION - SEPT 2019**
**IMPORTANT UPDATES TO THE CERTIFICATE POLICIES & PROGRAMS - JUNE 2019**
**CHANGES TO LEGAL AID ONTARIO's FAMILY AND CRIMINAL DUTY COUNSEL PROGRAMS - JUNE 2019**
REVIEW OF THE LEGAL AID SERVICES ACT
Over the summer of 2019, FOLA, as part of the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) reviewed the Legal Aid Services Act (LASA) and we continue to monitor this file.
CALL FOR COMMENT – SHORT-TERM PRO BONO LEGAL SERVICES RULES
In the spring of 2019, the Law Society sought input on proposed amendments to the lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, which would extend the modified conflict of interest standard in the short-term pro bono legal services rules to Legal Aid Ontario lawyers, who provide short-term pro bono legal services.
They also sought input on whether the short-term pro bono legal services rules should be expanded to include other not-for-profit service providers. Currently, only lawyers who provide services through a Pro Bono Ontario program are exempt from performing conflict of interest searches when providing pro bono services.
You can read FOLA's submission here.
You can read TLA's submission to the LSO Professional Regulation Committee here.
FOLA's Legal Aid Committee & ASLA
FOLA has an active Legal Aid Committee, currently chaired by FOLA executive member Terry Brandon, and is involved with the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) which has been the primary vehicle for interested legal organizations to lobby for more funds to service more of the population.
In the April 2019 Ontario Budget, Legal Aid funding cut nearly 30% ($133 million). It was also announced that the organization could no longer use provincial funds for refugee and immigration cases.
FOLA is working aggressively with all ASLA members to ensure that these cuts do not impact front line services. Together, we have written formal letters requesting meetings with the Attorney General of Ontario (one letter regarding the cuts in general and one letter regarding the cuts to refugee funding), the federal Minister of Justice, and the Chair of Legal Aid Ontario. Updates will be forthcoming.
The members of ASLA are:
Legal Aid Deficit
In December 2016, FOLA and other stakeholders learned that Legal Aid Ontario was facing a $26 million deficit as a result of higher than anticipated up-take on the expanded services first introduced in 2015. FOLA responded to this news in which we expressed our concern with this development and with the potential impact it might have to clients and to the certificate-bar system in Ontario.
The Attorney General also commissioned a review of Legal Aid to determine if there were steps to take to avoid the same problems in the future. The results of this review can be found at this link.
Looking forward, FOLA will continue to work with Legal Aid Ontario and other stakeholders to strive for an adequately funded legal aid system that maintains the private bar at the centre of the legal aid system. This means we will continue to work through ASLA and undertake our own advocacy efforts.
The relationship between the Private Bar and Legal Aid Ontario
The relationship between the private bar and Legal Aid Ontario has, over time, been a fractious one, but FOLA has attempted to take constructive steps to improve this relationship and to ensure the avenue of communication is always open between LAO and the bar. At nearly every Plenary meeting, LAO participates in panel discussions; FOLA regularly provides updates on LAO activities to its members; and, if problems arise, FOLA engages with senior executives of LAO to address issues and find solutions.
FOLA also strives to invite LAO representatives to its bi-annual plenary meetings as often as possible to facilitate an ongoing dialogue between LAO and the practicing bar.
If members of the private bar encounter specific problems or issues with LAO, they are encouraged to contact Katie Robinette, Executive Director (email@example.com) directly so the issues can be dealt with quickly.
The LAO website was over ten years old and in need of an update. The new website better reflects the way LAO clients, staff, stakeholders and public use the site and has a simple design for users and is fully accessible and mobile-friendly.
What to expect:
Here are some important changes to look out for:
1. All tools (e.g. Find a Lawyer) are still there, but if you have bookmarked these tools in your browser, it's suggested that you set new bookmarks linking to the new website.
2. The menu will look different and information has been updated and reorganized to be more intuitive to the needs of clients, staff, stakeholders and the public.
You may have already been contacted by Legal Aid Ontario, at the local level, to discuss the implementation of recent changes at LAO. If you have not been contacted and would like to discuss the recent changes, please let FOLA know and we can facilitate a meeting for you and your members.
Contact Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org and put LEGAL AID ONTARIO and identify your Law Association in the subject line.
LAW ASSOCIATION ACTIONS AS A RESULT OF THE RECENT LAO CUTS
Starting on Aug 7th, the per diem duty counsel in Timmins and Cochrane North will institute a boycott of services and will not appear for regularly scheduled duty counsel shifts in bail courts. Read announcement here.
Letter are asking FOLA and ASLA to remind the government that the Legal Aid Plan was created by the Conservative government in 1967 to address a pressing need. You can read their letter here.
Thunder Bay Law Association's Letter to the Attorney General regarding recent cuts to Legal Aid funding available here.
Clients can now quickly and conveniently complete the following essential tasks online, in either French or English.
New legal aid recipients will be informed of the client portal when making their application.
Existing clients can register by calling LAO's client services centre at 1‑800‑668‑8258 to obtain a PIN and user instructions.
Please contact LAO's client service centre at 1‑800‑668‑8258 (416‑598‑8867 in Toronto) if you have any questions or if any of your clients experience technical difficulties using this new service.
Here are some handy links from Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
REVIEW OF THE LEGAL AID SERVICES ACT
On August 15, 2019, FOLA attended three Rountables Chaired by Legal Aid Ontario Chair Charles Harnick. The first meeting was on Criminal Law Legal Aid, the second was on Immigration and Refugee Legal Aid, and the third was on Family Law Legal Aid. All were to discuss the Legal Aid Modernization Project and the Legal Aid Services Act Review.
On September 10, 2019, FOLA presented our submission regarding the review of the Legal Aid Services Act to the Attorney General of Ontario, the Chair of Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Society of Ontario, and the Chair of the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid. You can read that submission here.
FOLA will continues to meet with the Alliance for Sustainable Legal Aid (ASLA) in advance of government legislation to amend the Act. We also continue to enjoy open dialogue with the Minister's office and Legal Aid Ontario.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE LEGAL AID SERVICES ACT
In its 2018 annual report, the Auditor General of Ontario recommended that the Ministry of the Attorney General work with Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) to conduct a comprehensive review of the clinic service delivery model and identify areas for improvement. The Ministry responded by agreeing to conduct a comprehensive review of the Legal Aid Services Act (the Act) and the service delivery model and identify areas for improvement, in consultation with LAO. This intention has been reiterated in the Attorney General’s April 12, 2019 letter to LAO’s CEO.
Legal Aid Ontario recently moved to a new District structure that very closely matches the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) judicial districts, except for the North where they now have one District while the OCJ has two. This results in the total number of districts having been reduced from 10 to 6.
The objective of the reorganization was to rationalize and realign the districts to improve the efficiency of services to clients, especially with regard to supporting staff and relationships with stakeholders and service providers.
The six (6) new Districts and their Directors General are:
These changes took formal effect on September 16, 2019 but the operational processes and systems necessitated by some of these changes will require some months to complete.
There will be no disruption to the legal aid services that clients and service providers receive from LAO from these changes. The objective is that this realignment will be seamless in terms of LAO clients, service providers, justice partners and stakeholders.
You may have already been contacted by Legal Aid Ontario, at the local level, to discuss implementation of recent changes at LAO. If you have not been contacted and would like to discuss the recent changes, please let FOLA know and we can facilitate a meeting for you and your members.
Contact Katie at email@example.com and put LEGAL AID ONTARIO in the subject line.
LAO is changing the way they fund, provide and, manage legal services while ensuring their priority remains to provide quality frontline service to their clients. Certificate policies and programs will be implemented in stages. Below is a summary of the changes announced on June 12, 2019:
Certificate acknowledgement and private bar duty counsel appearance fees
· LAO will no longer pay acknowledgement and appearance administrative fees for accepting certificate and duty counsel shifts.
· For acknowledgement fees, this change takes effect June 12, and for appearance fees, June 26, 2019.
· Certificate lawyers will continue to be paid by the hour or matter.
You will now receive payment in 28 days instead of 14, which includes duty counsel accounts. Accounts where disbursements or discretion are requested will continue to be paid with the standard 60-day timeframe.
· Certificate lawyers may no longer bill for bail hearings on block fees. On these matters, duty counsel will continue to be available to provide bail services. For more complex tariff cases, including those in LAO’s Big Case Management program and matters set for trial, certificate counsel may bill for bail hearings.
· Meritorious bail reviews will be funded at 5 hours per bail review (instead of 10). Certificate counsel will also resume applying for authorization before proceeding on bail reviews. In 2015, LAO increased bail review coverage from five to 10 hours to encourage the private bar to bring more bail reviews and address over-reliance on onerous conditions of release. The additional hours did not result in increased bail review applications.
· When using a publicly-funded Gladue report as part of sentencing submissions for Indigenous clients on tariff matters, lawyers will be allowed a 3-hour Gladue authorization (instead of 5). For block fees, lawyers will receive a Gladue “enhancement” based on approximately 3 hours of additional time, (instead of 5).
· Lawyers representing clients with mental health issues, including at fitness hearings and mental health court, on block fee matters, will receive an “enhancement” for approximately 2.5 hours (instead of 5) for additional work that may be needed to represent these clients.
· Because of technological and legal advances, extra coverage for DNA sentencing submissions will no longer be available, and submissions can be covered under the current base tariff. The block fee base rate that includes DNA submissions will remain the same.
· Criminal duty counsel will:
· LAO will continue to provide full certificate coverage for people experiencing domestic violence, including motions to change and emergency advice.
· Certificate counsel will no longer be able to bill for variations or motions to change where domestic violence is not an issue. Instead, duty counsel and family law service centres will, where available, perform these services, when possible.
· Counsel will be able to bill for up to two case conferences instead of multiple conferences.
· LAO will no longer issue certificates for independent legal advice relating to mediation or separation agreement certificates. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, 60 percent of separation agreement certificates were unused, or required additional certificates or services. This figure was 70 percent for independent legal advice certificates for mediation, not fulfilling the certificates’ original intent.
· Legal assistance in child protection matters remain unchanged.
· Family duty counsel will
Prioritize clients with the highest risk
Provide services to clients that are legally and financially eligible
Establish a framework for consistent services
Monitor, measure and adapt to any changing demand for duty counsel services
Work with stakeholders to effectively implement any changes
· A modified merit test will now be applied to Ontario Review Board appeals ensuring meritorious cases continue to be funded, similar to the one introduced for Consent and Capacity Board appeals in 2017. We continue to provide funding for lawyers to represent psychiatric patients exercising their right of appeal in meritorious cases.
· LAO will continue to fund certificate lawyers for meritorious CCB and ORB appeals over the governing regular tariff: for ORB appeals, lawyers will be funded up to 35 hours (instead of up to 50) and for CCB appeals lawyers will be funded up to 25 hours (instead of up to 50).
· Resources will be dedicated to services for psychiatric patients (instead of substitute decision makers)
· Five hours of certificate coverage will be available for parole matters (instead of 10). This ensures clients have access to the services they need. Ontario is one of few provinces which provide these services.
· Resources will be dedicated to services for prisoners to have access to statutory release by way of parole and to extraordinary remedy (instead of “faint hope” parole applications and “gating hearings”.
· LAO staff will be determining eligibility for the test case program instead of an external committee
· LAO will be introducing more defined discretionary processes and criteria.
For questions or concerns about these changes, please do not hesitate to contact David McKillop at Legal Aid Ontario at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On June 17, 2019, Legal Aid Ontario announced changes to the duty counsel program, effective July 7th. Specific details as to what Family Program duty counsel will do/won’t do can be found here and the Criminal Program changes can be found here.
The central changes are as follows, though the detail is really in the service guides: